Saturday, April 20, 2019

Kheema Rajma - Kidney Beans with Mince



Cooking rajma well depends largely on the rajma beans themselves, on how good they are. I have struggled to cook rajma to that magical buttery consistency all my life and had in fact, stopped trying for several years.  A friend recently gave me a big bag of pahadi rajma and I decided to give it another try. Many friends shared their tips and tricks and using that advice I tried again.

The rajma cooked so well, to that perfect creamy consistency, that I decided to make the final dish a little more special. And so I made Kheema Rajma and we had a superb lunch :)  I didn't need to cook the rajma for several whistles of the cooker (I never cook that way!) nor for hours on a slow flame. These rajmas were so good they cooked quickly in the pressure cooker, simmered for around half an hour once the cooker whistled. The secret to cooking rajma is using really good rajma.



Kheema Rajma 

1 cup pahadi rajma
2-3 green chillies
1 inch ginger
4-5 cloves garlic
1 tsp ghee

250 gms mutton kheema
2 onions, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
2-3 green chillies
1 star anise
2 inch cinnamon
2-3 Indian bay leaves
salt
sugar
turmeric
jeera powder
kashmiri chili powder
1 tsp Bengali garam masala or your preferred blend
Tomato ketchup
fresh coriander, chopped
mustard oil

Wash the rajma and soak it for around 12 hours. Drain out the water a couple of times in the course of the soaking and soak in fresh water.

Marinate the mince with salt and ginger garlic paste.

Once the rajma has soaked for enough time drain and pressure cook with enough water along with the ginger, garlic cloves, green chillies and ghee. Once the cooker whistles lower the heat and simmer for half an hour. Let the pressure come down on its own after you switch off the heat. If the rajma isn't cooked to the correct softness cook it further till it's done.

In a wok heat mustard oil and drop in the whole spices and green chilles. Let them sizzle for around 30 seconds and then add the chopped onions and a generous pinch of sugar. Saute till the onions turn translucent and then add the tomatoes and the ginger garlic paste. Stir well and fry till the tomatoes blend in. Add the dry spices and a splash of water, and cook till the oil is released. Stir frequently so nothing burns.

Add the marinated mince to this onion tomato mix. Break up any lumps that form and cook the mince for a good 10 minutes till the spices have mixed in well.

Now add the boiled rajma including the water it was boiled in. Add salt and bring the whole to a boil. Smash some of the rajma with the back of a ladle; this will thicken the gravy. Simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Add a good splash of tomato ketchup while simmering. Taste and adjust salt as required. Add chopped fresh coriander just before taking the kheema rajma off the heat.

Serve with hot rice.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Mutton Chops in Kolhapuri Masala




This is an easy recipe but needs time and patience because it involves the magic of slow cooking.
Mutton or goat meat is my favourite meat and I usually cook it Bengali style. Considering the sheer variety of spices and masala blends I have in my pantry thanks to wonderful friends, not just local but from all around the world, I do also play with other flavours.

My friend Smita gave me a bottle of her home made Kolhapuri masala and the obvious thing to cook with was mutton. So I used my basic go to recipe/technique for cooking mutton and tweaked it to use the Kolhapuri masala. Instead of the standard curry to be eaten with rice I made chops in a rich thick gravy that will be perfect with pao.

Mutton Chops in Kolhapuri Masala

8-10 double mutton chops

2-3 onions
4 cloves garlic
3-6 green chillies depending on how much heat you like

half cup thick curd
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp Kolhapuri masala
salt

mustard oil
a few cloves
one star anise
3 inch piece of cinnamon
sugar


Marinate the chops with the curd, powdered spices, salt, ginger garlic paste, and a splash of mustard oil for a few hours or over night.

Make a paste with the onions, green chillies, and garlic.

Heat some mustard oil in a heavy based cooking pot till it's nice and hot. Drop in the whole spices and let them fry for half a minute.
Add the onion paste with half a teaspoon of sugar

, reduce the heat, and then fry the paste slowly for 8 to 10 minutes till it turns slightly brown and has lost all its moisture. Don't burn the paste!
Add the marinated chops and mix well to coat all the chops with the paste and spices. Cook this covered on slow heat for another 10 minutes stirring every couple of minutes so you don't burn anything and all the meat is broiled.
Add a cup and a half of water to the pot, stir everything well, bring to a boil, and now cook slowly on low heat till the chops are cooked to perfection. Be sure to leave the lid on while cooking. Just stir once every 5-7 minutes to ensure even cooking.
You should have a thick silky gravy that clings to those chops when it's all cooked. Garnish with washed and finely chopped fresh coriander if you like.

Serve with fresh pao from your local bakery or with any bread that you like. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Moog Daal'er Khichuri



My oldest memory of moog'er daal is of Didin perched on her stool in her kitchen at her electric heater stirring moog'er daal or moong daal in a large shining iron kadai. The clinging sound of the 'khunti' and the swish of the daal as she leaned over the table stirring continuously was a common occurrence in the mornings as she prepped for the day's breakfast and lunch. Didin didn't cook a wide variety of dishes nor did she make special festive foods to mark the different 'parbon' that came by every month. She didn't observe fasts on the shastis and ekadashis either. The Hindu calendar was not a big part of our lives in Kolkata or in Mumbai as Moni didn't follow any of this either. But she cooked for us every day and we looked forward to our visits to her house for there would be a steady stream of everyday food tempered with special treats of mangsho'r jhol, machh'er chop, khichuri and other delights.

Though Didin had a frugal repertoire in the kitchen she fed us very well and we looked forward to our annual trips to Kolkata where we'd be pampered silly by Didin, and all the mamas and mashis - my mother's siblings and cousins. 

The smell of roasting moog daal is something most Bengalis will identify with - it is the smell of home, of Bengal, of grandmothers and mothers, of comfort and comfort food. The moog daal I saw at Didin's house was tiny in comparison with what I saw in Mumbai. Each grain was the size of a pin head, so different from the longish grains I had seen in the shops in Mumbai. This is Sona Moog'er Daal, a variety that is grown in Bengal and is naturally, the preferred variety in Bengali kitchens.

40 years ago it wasn't available in Mumbai and there was only that much Moni could carry back from Kolkata when we visited. So we ate moog'er daal only in Didin's house, Moni rarely cooked it at home in Mumbai. Nowadays it is far easier to find regional ingredients in Mumbai - not only do large supermarket chains carry good selections of regional ingredients, there are stand-alone shops that have a captive clientele for whom they source ingredients. That's not all - there are quite a few online stores that specialise in such products and deliver pan India.

In Kharghar I am very fortunate to have Jambon Stores in Sector 20 which has transformed from being just another cold storage shop selling chicken, fish, cold cuts, frozen peas, etc., to a Bengali ingredients emporium where fresh stocks arrive every week by train from Bengal. And among all the wonderful products are varieties of rice and daal from Bengal including the beautiful small grained sona moog daal.

One of the most popular dishes made with moog daal is khichuri. While khichuri is a must at the Durga Puja pandal bhogs, cooked without onions or garlic, and paired with a delicious mix vegetable preparation called labra, it also shows up on home menus depending on the season. The monsoon is deemed khichuri weather and in the first week when the rains have just arrived, while the rest of the world celebrates with chai and bhajias/pakoras, we Bengalis rub our hands in glee looking forward to a plate of steaming khichuri with a variety of bhajas on the side.

Winter is also khichuri season but with beautiful winter vegetables adding their flavour - cauliflower, red carrots, green peas, potatoes are the top favourites in a "sheet kaal'er khichuri" or winter khichuri. Here's how to make it.

Moog Daal'er Khichuri

Moog Daal - 1/2 cup
Gobindobhog rice - 1/2 cup
2 medium potatoes
1 tomato
1/2 cup green peas
3-4 large florets cauliflower
1-2 carrots (optional)
4 Indian bay leaves/tej pata
1 tsp jeera
4 cardamom
4 clove
2" cinnamon
2-3 green chillies
2" piece ginger
salt
turmeric
jeera powder
dhania powder
Bengali garam masala
sugar
mustard oil
ghee
water as required



Wash the rice and leave it in a fine mesh colander to drain.

Roast the daal gently in a dry wok for around 10 minutes till the colour changes and there's a lovely toasty aroma. The daal should change from its pale yellow to a nutty brown. Roast it to a level you like, just ensure you don't burn it. Once roasted, wash the daal once, drain and set aside. Don't wash the daal very vigorously or repeatedly as you will lose all the lovely toasty aroma and flavour.


Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes. Cut the cauliflower florets but not too small as they will then disintegrate into the khichuri. Peel the carrots an cut into thick barrels, if using. Shell the peas or thaw frozen peas. Peel the ginger and smash in your mortar and pestle till relatively smooth. This barely takes half a minute so use fresh. Wash and chop the tomato.

Now in a thick bottomed vessel heat mustard oil. Once properly hot fry the potatoes, then the cauliflower and reserve on a plate. Fry the veggies till they brown a little. This frying helps keep them intact while they cook in the khichuri.

In the same vessel add a little oil if required and then add the whole spices. Let them sizzle and then add the chopped tomato and the smashed ginger. Chuck in the green chillies, broken into 2-3 pieces depending on their size. Cook everything on a medium flame till the tomato has totally disintegrated and everything is mixed well.

In a small bowl mix all the dry spices in a little water to make a runny paste. Add this to the pot, stir well and cook till the spices have lost their rawness and oil is released.

Add the drained rice to the mix and saute for a few minutes. Then add the washed and drained bhaja moog'er daal or roasted moog daal. Mix everything well, add salt and enough water to cook the khichuri. Once the mix has come to a boil lower the heat and add potatoes. Cook covered on medium heat. Once the potatoes are half cooked add the cauliflower, peas, and carrots. Add a teaspoon or so of sugar at this stage. Cover the pot and let the khichuri cook.

If you're using frozen peas add them at the end, in the last couple of minutes. make sure they are thawed properly before you chuck them in.

Stir occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the vessel. Add warm water only if required. Cook slowly till done. Once the khichuri is cooked add a good dollop of ghee and a sprinkling of Bengali garam masala to the pot and stir it in. Taste for salt and adjust if needed.  The khichuri should be thick and porridge-like, not dry.

If you're vegan, leave out the ghee.

You can serve this sheet kaal'er khichuri with begun bhaja, potol bhaja, or a simple omelette with onions and green chillies in it. A fried papor/papad will make it complete!



Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Palong Shaak Ghonto - Spinach with Vegetables



Spinach/palak/ palong shaak is the leafy green that was cooked the most often in our house. On occasion we would eat laal shaak or red amaranth which I loved because of that fabulous colour it oozed onto the rice in my plate. Moni was not fond of cooking though she was a good cook and tended to make the simpler dishes that required less prep. So greens like methi never appeared on our dinner table. In spite of its frequent appearance at meals I never got tired of palong shaak and I cook it quite often too.

Palong shaak features in many Bengali recipes and this one with brinjal, potato and 'bori' (dried lentil dumplings that look like Hershey's Kisses in shape) is a general favourite. Like most everyday dishes, this shaak ghonto is quite easy to cook. This dish is also vegan.

Palong Shaak Ghonto

1 bunch spinach
1 medium potato
1 small brinjal
a handful of bori
2-3 dried red chillies
1 tsp panch phoron
salt
turmeric
mustard oil.

Chop the spinach, wash thoroughly in plenty of water and leave aside in a colander to drain.
Peel and cut the potato into smallish cubes.
Cut the brinjal into proportionate cubes.

Heat oil in the wok and fry the potatoes, brinjals, and the boris separately and remove to a plate/vessel.

Add a little oil to the wok and let it heat properly. Chuck in the panch phoron and the dried red chillies and fry for a few seconds. Don't let it burn.

Add the drained spinach leaves and mix well. Add salt and turmeric, stir to mix, lower the flame and cook the spinach covered for around five minutes.

Add the fried potatoes and cook till the potatoes are soft and most of the water has dried up.

Add the brinjals, mix well and cook for a couple of minutes. Finally add the fried bori, mix them in and take off the heat after a minute or so.

Serve the ghonto as an accompaniment to rice and daal, or enjoy it with hot chapatis.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Kaale Gajar ka Halwa - Purple Carrot Fudge



There's a certain pleasure in cooking with ingredients that are seasonal and available in limited areas. Like Kaale Gajar or purple carrots available mainly in North India. I certainly haven't seen them in any market in Mumbai.

My friend Sangeeta Khanna of Banaras ka Khana  an excellent blog that showcases recipes from Benaras and Eastern UP, was coming to Mumbai for a very short trip and at my request, brought me a generous bagful of beautiful purple carrots. "It's early in the season and the carrots are baby sized" she warned me as she handed me the precious cargo. I was delighted to receive the carrots, large, small, or baby sized!



If you post the question "What to make with kaale gajar?" on social media you will get two answers - halwa, and kaanji. There are no takers for kaanji in my house so I made halwa with a portion of the booty. Throughout the process of making the halwa we were entranced at the beautiful colour of these carrots and I took lots of photos, some of which you can see here.

A common issue with this halwa is that the milk tends to split. Luckily for me that didn't happen. It could be thanks to the full fat buffalo milk I used.

You can add more sugar if you prefer the halwa sweeter. We're a diabetic household so I kept it as low as possible. I also used condensed milk which is sweetened - another reason why I kept the grain sugar low in my recipe. The recipe also has raisins which add their own sweetness.

There are numerous methods for gajar ka halwa, this is what I did.

Kaale Gajar ka Halwa

3 cups peeled and grated purple carrots/kaale gajar
1 litre milk
2 tbsp sugar
a pinch of salt
4-5 cardamom pods
1/2 can Milkmaid condensed milk
75 grams khoya + 25 gms extra for garnish
2 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp sliced and fried (in ghee) almonds


In a thick bottomed vessel place all the grated carrot. Pour in the milk. I used full fat buffalo milk from my local milk shop, not branded tetrapak-ed milk. Add the sugar and salt, stir well and then put it on the heat to boil. Chuck in the cardamom pods, lightly bashed to open them up and expose the seeds within.
As soon as it comes to a proper boil reduce the heat and let the carrots cook and the milk reduce. This will take a while so be prepared. The milk will slowly change colour as it absorbs colour from the carrots. I was so amazed by the beautiful colour I took a photograph of some of the milk separately and then poured it back into the pot.



Stir the mixture every few minutes checking to see that it hasn't stuck to the bottom of your pan/vessel.
When the milk has reduced to less than half pour in the condensed milk, stir well to mix, and cook further. Add the raisins at this stage.
On the side, heat ghee in a tadka pan and fry boiled and sliced almonds till golden. Keep this aside.

Keep cooking the carrot-milk mixture till it reaches the sticky thick consistency of a halwa. As the mix thickens it will need constant supervision and stirring so the halwa doesn't stick or burn. This is the last 10 minutes or so of the process so don't worry, there's not too much effort required!
Crumble the khoya and mix it in. Cook for a few more minutes till the consistency is perfect.



Remove to a pretty bowl, garnish with more khoa and the fried almond slivers. Serve the halwa hot. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Chingri diye Kolmi Shaak - Water Spinach with Prawns



Leafy greens are a big part of Bengali cuisine and you will a wide variety of recipes for an equally wide variety of greens or 'shaak' as we call them. Pui, palong, notey, kolmi, methi, sorse, ...the list is long! My visits to Kolkata always include a few trips to Gariahat market to pick up seasonal veggies. And in addition, there is a sobji-wala who comes to the house every morning laden with produce. This means there is no lack of good veggies whatever the season. Luckily for me, I also have an excellent veggie shop near my house in Kharghar where I get almost everything that is available in Kolkata, enabling me to cook quite a lot of typical Bengali dishes even though I'm not in Bengal.

Most of us tend to pick up regular spinach but not so much the other leafy greens. I certainly spent many years cooking only spinach, not being confident with the other greens. But now, after having read innumerable excellent Bengali food blogs and having really chewed the two volume Amish o Niramish Ahar by Pragyasundari Devi (my Bible for Bengali recipes) I have broadened my repertoire considerably. I learned many recipes for the various shaaks in combination with root vegetables, peas, brinjals, and of course, prawns.

I also look at recipe videos on YouTube and among my favourites are the ones showing recipes from Bangladesh. The ingredients are mostly the same as those from West Bengal but the recipes can differ quite a bit! Like this recipe I saw for kolmi shaak or water spinach cooked with prawns from Rosonar Shad  that includes onions. The Ghoti (West Bengali) recipes from my family don't include onion when cooking leafy greens even when they have non vegetarian elements like prawns. I liked the newness of this recipe and how different it is from the pui chingri I cook very often. The instructions are detailed and the recipe is quite simple. 

Chingri diye Kolmi Shaak 

kolmi shaak - 1 bunch
shelled and deveined prawns - 1/2 cup
mustard oil
1 onion
2-3 green chillies
salt
turmeric
dhaniya/coriander powder

Apply salt and turmeric to the prawns and leave to marinate while you prep the kolmi shaak.
Cut the kolmi shaak finely including the tender stalks. Wash thoroughly and leave aside in a colander to drain.
Slice the onion.
In a wok heat mustard oil and fry the prawns till they turn opaque. If you have large prawns cut into halves or smaller pieces and then fry.
Add the sliced onions and the green chillies to the prawns. You can slit the chillies for more heat or break them into pieces for less heat.
One the onions lose their rawness, add the chopped and drained kolmi shaak. Add salt keeping in mind that the prawns have already been salted. Stir well and let it cook covered for around 5 minutes. The shaak will release water and everything will get cooked in the steam.
Sprinkle a little coriander powder and mix well. Cook open, letting the excess water evaporate.
Serve with plain rice and daal.